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Fragments, Existential

I haven't posted much lately, mostly because I've been busy but also because I've been reading existentialist text and it has completely flipped my understanding of the world on its head. It's as if all of creation was obsessed with the person from the Universe's point of view until Kierkegaard came along and asked what the world was from the Person's point of view. Nevertheless I decided to write down a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for some months.

  1. Sartre defines the in-itself and the for-itself. The in-itself as I understand it is the intrinsic actual self and the for-itself is the conscious perception of the self. I think there is actually a triumvirate: the in-itself is the same, the ideal-self which is the concept which being strives toward and the for-itself as the conscious self measures and thinks the self is even if it is mistaken, deceived or self deceiving.
  2. I understand Sartre's lack to be the difference between the ideal self and the perceived self (for-itself). This implies that being's purpose is always to strive towards that ideal self and that all drive, desire, want, etc are lacks. Of course if there was no drive to exist then the being wouldn't exist. It is an implicit part of the definition of being. Beings have no a priori reason for existing, they are coincidence, so it is interesting that such a thing could come to be. But it happens, here we are, and we spend out our entire lives in a "movement away from death". Depressing? No. Because we are always looking up, towards the light.
  3. I have no idea what consciousness is. But I do know that it provides a feedback loop to the self, and an opportunity to change the way we think or the things we do. It seems like all thought may be a form or in support of reflection. The ability to look at what we've done and to determine what we will do. Animals are not conscious and therefore have no moral obligation. I am conscious and this implies and requires a moral obligation. Acting in an unethical fashion means simply to mar or take away the freedom of another when it was inappropriate to do so. This is a non optimal behavior. Consciousness allows us to reflect on our values and our behaviors and to calculate their efficacy. Animals cannot do that. They are forced to respond only to physical stimuli and not concepts of the mind. It is our purpose to maximize our being, to become our true selves (to be free?). Living life according to a concept is simply not possible without consciousness.
  4. It is obvious to me now, that the universe is mechanical and that everything that exists has a physical representation in the universe and is therefore subject to it's laws. That eliminates all of the religious mumbo-jumbo, but it also eliminates free will in the sense that we are accustomed to thinking about it. But the prospect that we have no self control over anything that we do and that our future is as spelled out as our past is daunted and quite frankly, depressing. But I say that it doesn't matter. Furthermore, I say go as far as to say that you want it even if you don't realize it. Let me explain why. First of all, you have no knowledge of the future. You exist only in the present. And you are constantly barraged with choices that must be made and making those choices to the best of your ability doesn't change. So the argument that "it's pointless" is wrong. You will still live your life to it's predestined conclusion and you cannot know what it is. So that eliminates the existential objections to a mechanical universe. But it still bugs me that every thought I have is totally causal, based on previous thoughts and stimuli from the environment. That every decision I make is completely predictable. That if I hit the rewind button over and over again that I will make the same decision EVERY SINGLE TIME no matter how many times I hit that button. But is it daunting because I can't make a different decision or because I am nothing but an automaton? On the first I would say don't do yourself such a disservice. If you had to redo that decision over again, would you do it differently? And I'm not talking about regret. I'm not talking about what you'd do differently because you know the result, because you have knowledge after the fact. Rewind to the point where you were about to make the decision based on the information you had at the time. You made the best decision you could, didn't you? Based on the knowledge in your head and your brain's ability to make decisions you concocted the best strategy to solve your problem and you acted. And you'd do it over and over again, because any other decision would have been an inferior solution to the problem at hand. You would have violated your existential obligation and moved away from your purpose of becoming your ideal being rather than moving towards it and as a result would have acted unethically. So yes, you do prefer a mechanical universe because anything else would be inferior. But that still doesn't make me feel better. Knowing that I am an automaton without any control of myself whatsoever. That I am destined to be exactly what I am. What? Isn't the power of Reflection exactly that: the ability to look at ourselves and change ourselves? So I guess I am not an automaton at all. I may live in a mechanical world but I have the power to change myself and change my path. Try thinking about someone who is already dead, how every thought and action was causal, precipitated by one to the next and consider also that the life they led was full of choice. I may be predestined, but I am not fated to a particular end.
  5. Compulsive hand washing is the inability to stop washing your hands. An alcoholic is someone who cannot stop drinking. A serial killer is someone who is compelled to murder. So why is OCD considered something treatable but alcoholism is considered a disease? Why is the killer treated as diseased, but is not considered an addict? Why is addiction treated as something that is completely unfixable, only manageable? I think there is no fundamental difference in either of them, however there is a difference in the severity and in the origin. My question is this: Is there a fundamental difference in the biological aspects of each?
  6. I loved watching the Botton talk @ TED. He expressed many of the views about religion that I have. He called it Atheism 2.0 and it is (finally) a move away from the vitriolic hatred of the religious by atheists. He said that basically a) religion can be analyzed scientifically for all of the services it provides to humanity and that b) they can all be ported over to a secular platform for use by atheists and that all the things that are available to religionists (except magic like reincarnation or life after death but including the "religious experience") will be available to atheists. This is exactly what I've been saying! But personally I find the religion of Catholicism to be absolutely beautiful. And I find that many of the aspects of Catholicism (like the holidays, rituals and concepts) to have more utility than most other religions. I would love if someone produced a secular, existential version of the Bible and the Catholic religion. Unfortunately we would not be able to take any of the artwork with us or use their churches.

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